A month earlier, it arrested Ahmed Maher, who co-founded the April 6 youth protest movement, though he was later released pending trial. His communications savvy and raw courage helped pro-democracy demonstrators take and hold Tahrir Square, and ultimately oust dictator Hosni Mubarak.
But after the fall of Mr. Mubarak, who was an Air Force general, the military retained power through a junta of other generals. The generals retained Mubarak’s dreaded security police and their well-documented reliance on torture. The junta arrested bloggers and other activists for non-violent dissent, such as “insulting” the regime, and gave them long prison sentences in sham military courts.
Curiously, however, the military focused its repression almost entirely on secular democrats: It released Islamists from prison and allowed them to operate freely. The Muslim Brotherhood, in turn, avoided criticizing the military and refused to support calls to hold it accountable for its human rights abuses.
With many of their organizers in jail, the secular democrats were ill-equipped to compete in the country’s first post-Mubarak presidential election last June. The junta, however, took no chances, barring all pro-Western secular democrats from the ballot through its appointed election commission. Morsi was elected because Egyptian voters preferred him to yet another Air Force general. But the generals denied voters plausible alternatives to military or Islamist rule.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood had been a late and halting participant in the revolution, once in power, President Morsi could have risen to the occasion and led all Egyptians into a democratic future. Instead, he entrenched the Brotherhood’s power and cemented its nascent alliance with the military.